Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

The dysfunction of the Montreal Canadiens: the language game

That’s the story. Dysfunction. Why do I say that? Well, let’s analyze the firing of Jacques Martin closely:

The Canadiens experienced early success with Martin, making the Eastern Conference Finals. They came one goal from beating the eventual Stanley Cup Champions last year. Through all of that, Kirk Muller was Martin’s lieutenant, and the heir apparent for the job.

In the midst of those two semi-successful seasons, the Canadiens, admirably, allowed Guy Boucher to leave and become head coach in Tampa Bay. He has since flourished in that role.

Muller, anxious for his own chance to head a team after years as an assistant, left in the off-season to coach Milwaukee, Nashville’s farm team, in the AHL. While gone, he was still a candidate if Nashville would let him go.

Two weeks ago, that call came.

Muller, as we all know, is now head coach in Carolina. Why couldn’t this talented, appreciated man coach the Montreal Canadiens? Because he didn’t speak French. Or at least, he didn’t speak enough French.

Here we are weeks later. Martin is out. The new man heading the bench? Randy Cunneyworth. Now, I have nothing against Randy Cunneyworth. He seems like an upstanding fellow, and he’s been rising through the ranks after a stint in the AHL last year. But, he has 30-odd games as an assistant coach in Montreal, and guess what: he doesn’t speak French.

Why did the rules suddenly change? Muller was there for the picking, but Pierre Gauthier wouldn’t make the move. For decades, the rule was only a Francophone could coach the Habs. If this rule doesn’t exist, why have the Canadiens allowed so many great English coaches (and potential general managers) to pass by?

And why is the guy who has been running one of the league’s worst power plays the new head coach?

Now Muller is gone. Martin is gone. Cunneyworth is in. I don’t care about language, I couldn’t care less about race, ethnicity, nationality. I want the best coach available. Arguably, based on his history, Kirk Muller may have been that guy. I think he was. I don’t think Cunneyworth is.

Muller should be coach. He is not. And that falls on Pierre Gauthier.

What should have happened? As I had suggested ages ago, were a change to come, after the contract handed to Andrei Markov, the lack of preparation for his absence, and the team’s cap situation, Gauthier should have been held accountable. Jacques Martin should have been moved to General Manager, Kirk Muller should have taken the reins.

The problem here is personnel. The Canadiens don’t have a team that can score. 15 goals between 5 centres. Countless millions on the IR. Martin was coaching a staid, somewhat boring game, because it gave the Habs a change to win. I suspect owner Geoff Molson told Gauthier he didn’t have the ability to go hire a new coach and add a new contract. Gauthier has to be on thin ice. And that explains the in-house hiring of Cunneyworth, and the move by assistant General Manager Larry Carriere to assistant coach (a man who, while he has 40 years of hockey experience, has never, ever coached a game).

So today, I recognize the successes Martin had, the unity the team showed, and the class he demonstrated in never complaining. Pierre Gauthier shouldn’t have been allowed to make this move. The dysfunction that runs rampant falls at his feet. And I must admit that I am sad Kirk Muller didn’t get his chance in Montreal.

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Alan's avatar

Pretty sure Cunneyworth has more than 30 games of assistant experience. He spent two seasons as an assistant in Atlanta (2008-2010) under John Anderson.

Posted by Alan from Atlanta on 12/17/11 at 02:15 PM ET


Alan, you’re absolutely right: I meant in the pressure-cooker that is Montreal.

Posted by The Upper Canadien from Toronto on 12/17/11 at 03:24 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Has anyone heard from Sal about this?

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 12/17/11 at 06:00 PM ET


Good call SYF. I love Sal. Didn’t hear him on 990 today, but I bet he calls in tonight post-game.

Posted by The Upper Canadien from Toronto on 12/17/11 at 06:53 PM ET

Alan's avatar

You have a fair point—Montreal is one hell of a pressure cooker, so to speak. As a former Thrashers fan, I sincerely hope he does well as head coach, despite the lackluster power play.

Posted by Alan from Atlanta on 12/17/11 at 09:09 PM ET


The players on the ice, and the person responsible for assembling them, are responsible for this mess.

Love to hear those people wax poetically about the lack of accountability being the downfall of their ex-coach.


Posted by BlackXinu on 12/18/11 at 01:07 AM ET

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About The Upper Canadien

The Upper Canadien is your one stop shop for all things Montreal Canadiens. Since the summer of 2010, I've been providing Habs related news, notes, and most importantly, opinions. As a blogger, I don't believe it's my job to report the news, it's my privilege to comment on it. You may disagree with what I suggest. In fact, you most likely will. But that's the great part about blogging: it spurs opinion, comment and engages all involved. I've really enjoyed all the debate and commentary from readers thus far and I encourage everyone to respond with ideas on lineups, trades, logos, sweaters, mascots, whatever. The Upper Canadien is a conversation for all hockey fanatics.

I've come to Kukla's Korner with four years of campus radio and three years of sportswriting from my time at Mount Allison University on Canada's East coast. Not only do I not have any professional journalistic training, after five years in the corporate world, I've spent much of the past two years completing an MBA. Business by day, hockey by night, I'm a Canadiens fan through and through. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do writing.

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